Friday, December 11, 2009

fortune cookies part 1

the future's in your lap
so keep it warm

--Flo and Eddie

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hallowed Rewind--part one

I was at a poetry party. Pretty big party--Eileen Myles was the guest of honor, so there was lots of factional crossover. 21 Grand types, flarfers, 4th gen langpo--I feel embarrassed listing them because I'm so out of it now that I can't recognize the categories, let alone the players. Where's my scorcard? But it was pretty comfortable--or as comfortable as parties can be, for me. I thought, I'm a poet, they're poets, lots in common. But---

Talking to a younger poet--I really like her work. She's read in the series I curate, knows me as a buyer for the store. But said--"I didn't know you wrote poetry." Seemed quite surprised. She knew about the novels.

I realized that I haven't published poetry in years--except for two exceptions, David Brazil's mag, Try, and one chapbook on Blue Press. I've wanted to publish more, but my poetry seems miles behind (or ahead, or just outside) what other poets are doing now.

Lateley (to quote William Talcott) my ego's been barking. I've been rewriting old poems, and writing new ones. Would like to have a "New and Selected" published, but doubt there would be much interest. So--I'm going to post stuff as I finish, starting with early rewrites. Next party--I'll just point 'em to my blog.

Hallowed Rewind
new and selected poems

Loose Ends

We were on the roof gray day
The sky blended in with it
Saw a bird kind of slate
Said maybe we could go out
Get a drink or something noticed
A gray pole and a broken antenna
A rope wound around knotted
At the end knot made a clanging

Saw some blue beyond the clouds
Then didn’t you said what movie
Is this something foreign judging
By the slowness of the plot your
Head was in your hands then
You straightened stood stretched
Drifted to the edge

Secret Agent Man

People who wear exotic clothes
Often have conventional minds
I’ve decided to dress like a clerk
For the rest of my life

I once considered taking a vow
Of silence but feared I’d attract
Too much attention as a mute

I go to an office and file until lunch
Go for a sandwich at a sandwich place
Return to the office and file some more

I Wish They All Could Be

God only knows what I’d be without you
Shiver bow my head walking the avenue
Where people routinely bounce off the walls
Like bumper cars then fall in heaps
At the end of the street just like the plague

Only to be carried away in flatbed trucks
Crying 96 tears into 98 wounds

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Reviewers speak--all two of them

we all come into this world
with our little egos equipped

with individual horns now
if we don't blow them who

else will

--George Sanders

Tough to get reviewed these days--especially hard for small press writers.
The New York Times passed--also TLS, New York Review, um--SF Chronicle, Rain
Taxi...but a couple of nice feature pieces the Express and Daily Planet.

Garrett Caples' review in the Guardian got bumped:

Double Penetration

The Incredible Double
by Owen Hill
PM Press

review by Garrett Caples

Poet, bookseller, reading series curator at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, Owen Hill is among our under-recognized literary talents. Like Kenneth Fearing before him, Hill has turned to the detective novel as a genre befitting a poet’s love of phrasemaking. The Chandler Apartments (2002)—an actual building around the corner from Moe’s—introduced readers to book-scout-turned-unlicensed-PI, Clay Blackburn, who returns for a new novella, The Incredible Double (PM Press, $13.95). This phrase, initially referring to sex when a man comes twice before withdrawing, accrues many significations, from doppelgangers to double agents to group sex, suggestive even of Clay’s bisexuality (much meditated on, though consummated in Chandler, not here).

She was a bundle of clichés, but again, I wasn’t noticing. Or maybe it’s that in Berkeley we live with a different set of clichés.” Here Clay announces Hill’s great achievement. For Berkeley seems a recalcitrant city for noir aesthetics. Yet Hill finds what he needs; Telegraph bums become informants, anarchists gun-toting muscle, Trieste a suitably low-key clandestine rendezvous. A trip to Orinda evokes all the disdain of Marlowe’s visit to Burlingame in The Big Sleep. Hill’s style is tasty but not overblown: in the first paragraph, on Route 24, Clay “wagged a middle finger”—a phrase so wrong becomes more right, like the dog that “screamed” in Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.”

The plot—involving a Wal-Mart-like organization’s attempt to penetrate the Bay with evil retail—isn’t quite perfunctory, though it’s more a premise for Clay to muse on his obsessions: poetry, sex, wine, espresso, etc. As it grows more fantastic, the book heads in the direction of David Meltzer’s Agency Trilogy, a fine direction indeed, exceeding pulp much as Meltzer amps up pornography to where it explodes. All in all, Double is an excellent contribution to the tradition of poets’ pulp fiction.

Also, a review/post on Andrew Goodwin's excellent blog, Professor of Pop:

Owen Hill's first novel, The Chandler Apartments, was a page-turner, read literally in one frenzied Saturday morning. Declaration of (minor) interest: Owen is a friend of a friend (& once kindly gave me discount @ Moe's but don't tell anyone that.)

Here's the opening para from his new novel The Incredible Double, words that will draw you in like a punter to a strip club -- ok then problem drinker to a dive bar -- if you read them aloud:


"My '87 Tercel is in great shape, only a hundred thousand miles and almost new everything, but it does have trouble with the Bay Area hills. Coming out of the tunnel on 24, leaving Berkeley, heading toward the suburbs, I was losing speed and the SUVs were losing patience. I shifted it down into second and wagged my middle finger. My best friend Marvin says that driving slow in a small car is a revolutionary act. Maybe's he right. A woman in a Hummer, no lie, who probably weighed in at 97 pounds, half of it hair, gave me a look that could kill and, waved her phone at me. When you think of spoiled little brats in military vehicles careening through the 'burbs, you know how rotten the twentieth-century will be."


Most important 2 words: no lie. That gives you the genre for cert & tells you that while our narrator has some ironic distance on Marvin, they are perhaps (or were) ideological cousins. Owen isn't afraid of cheap shots if they're funny & tell you something ("half of it hair") because he knows he's been freed by genre. The prose never drifts into agitprop but it's constantly hinted at it, as if this were an Op-Ed piece in Socialist Worker, written by a poet with an acute sense of humour. The first para immediately sets up the dystopian world we are about to enter but you don't feel trapped in it exactly. You just know that the mise-en-scene for wherever our story & our narrator are headed is going to be "rotten".

And this rotten-ness dear voyeur from cyberspace is happening right here right now in river city as Berkeley gets increasingly comfy with being a rich town (a security guard asked Susan to move her bag from where it might be stolen last night @ about 6pm... on a main throughfare in mf Rockridge) where even the south side (site of the Historic POP Homeland) has monster homes and monster cars and of course therefore monster peeps.

Like The Chandler Apartments, The Incredible Double captures a time & a place perfectly: here, now. But that would be boring because it would be too obvious, so Hill never forgets that you make it interesting (& significant) if you pepper the story with nostalgia for times passed.

He does, after all, drive an '87 Tercel.

Raymond Williams once described literature as a record of lived experience which is of course not always the case since neither lived nor experience are really the correct terms for a lot of contemporary fiction. But in the case of the savvy crime-thriller, if you can set the noir against the nostalgia then you have one powerful vehicle (if you're a poet) for evoking the time & the place that is the fag-end of Berkeley as we now know it.

And anyway, whether or not you care about that (& you should), Owen Hill has written another page-turner.


Thursday, July 23, 2009



the cracking


on all fronts"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Revolutionary" Letters

"I think I'm so educated
and I'm so civilized cuz
I'm a strict vegetarian..."

never felt so normal

as at the anarchist


steps of sproul

tried to read

your crazy shaved head

attracted in spite

if you took the factory

it would stink

in that great



like Henry Miller's


tarzan tarzan make

me a home in the trees

ape man fantasies

the pure joy

of the coconuts

as they fall

in imagined


split some lousy


in the room the women

come and go

(and the guys

too) the names

of six big

commie theorists

dropped in as many

minutes in my own

living room

if we took the factory

we couldn't make shit

I think I get it

go slowly

eat locally

seems somewhat


one last tomato

please oakland

grown no more

mozzarella di

bufala unless

they milk those

poor beasts

in golden gate


and that's

a different

kind of bufala


at the Claremont

farmer's market

in the DMV parking lot

no lie

I suck on a nectarine

dreaming of imported


I have suffered like Che

Pancho Villa and Malcolm

O give me a home where di

bufala roam

and the prosciutto is cured

down the block

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Personal Poem

catching the rise

of the rhythm wave

out the door

wind hits left side

of my face

turn left on the avenue

a walk among the bogus

Friday, July 10, 2009

Running on Fumes Part 1

There are a couple of places in The Long Goodbye where Marlowe has nothing to say, and Marlowe as narrator says just that--I let it ride...I didn't say anything at all. Other places where the hardboiled wisecrack is called for but passed over--as if Marlowe (or Chandler) was tired of the sound of his voice.

The similes are also less frequent. I just started rereading the middle novels--not sure how the the progression works--but between Big Sleep and Long Goodbye you can feel a difference in the rhythm. There are more similes per page in Sleep, making for a boom-boom-boom forties give-and-take--William Powell, or Bogey.

Long Goodbye is sick, sad and world weary. Chandler working on fumes. The movie was just right--Gould/Marlowe is tired in that I can't go on I'll go on way.

The color of stepped on gum
is the color of our times.
The light of our times is
the light in the 14th St.
subway at 2 a.m. The air
of our times is the air of the
Greyhound depot, Market
& Sixth. It is prime time. A passed
out sailor sits pitched
forward like a sack of laundry
in a plastic bucket seat
his forehead resting on
the movie of the week. The Long Goodbye.

Tom Clark

I'm trying to understand why that's so appealing. There's
something that Tom said once--we were talking about F.A
Nettelbeck, and Tom said that he writes like he just doesn't
care. I almost took it wrong, then understood--Nettelbeck
doesn't seem to care what the reader thinks--he seems
beyond career goals, proving a point, or doing the right thing...
I think the thing I hate most about contemporary writing
(when I'm hating contemporary writing) is the earnestness--
poets "care" too much. The caring disease seems to infect
all schools. The chips aren't allowed to fall, even (or especially)
in the most "avant" work.

A key word: Anymore. As in, "I just don't give a shit anymore",
or, "I can't go on anymore, I'll go on." (apologies to Beckett).
Why/how does that feeling of exhaustion--universal, open up the soul (ouch!),
somehow let the light in. And the word anymore, which has a sad
open-then-closed, three beat sound to it.

What I'm reading: Obviously Chandler, Tom Clark's blog
Beyond the Pale:, proofs of the
new Lethem novel.

Friday, July 3, 2009

the fish in this barrel lack flavor/part one


... so I'm following along--reading the poetry blogs. Slo-po-con-flar-po, whatever--happy to not have to take sides. Telling myself that I don't care but after coffee and the Times I'm reading the blogs. All the various arguments are old news but the personalities are an interesting study--I've met the players, most of them have read at Moe's. I think they see me as the guy who sets up the mic, I don't push my own work--don't think they'd be that interested. They're mostly a generation or two younger than me, and I can't help thinking of them as nice kids. They're all quite professional, have good manners. You couldn't tell a flarf from a slowpo if you saw them coming down the street--mostly from the middle classes, or if not they've learned to "pass". Lefties, intellectual, socially concerned. Hard working--teachers, tech writers. Can talk the talk and for all I know they walk the walk (throw trash in the right bins, bike to work, eat locally grown...). The kinds of folks I like, feel comfortable with. And yet...something's not quite right.
Too good to be true...

Remember Teflon? Been replaced by other nonstick surfaces, but I'd bet that the new ones are just as toxic. Teflon still works as a metaphor, though, esp. now that we have another Teflon prez.

There's something that I believed when I was younger (and gave up on) that is coming back around to haunt me now--will (possibly over) use the Teflon meta. to try and explain: good poetry comes out of the gunk, the stuff that sticks to the pan. Great poetry comes when the pan isn't properly cleaned. Stuff grows there, and it smells bad--unpleasant, sickening maybe--but it changes perception--could even cause ecstatic hallucinations--but, also, fever, sickness...

I don't want to believe this--want to write it off as a late-middle-age (temporary) return to romanticism. I've kept my nose clean--kept those nasty bits hidden away, washed the "pan" whenever possible--


Maybe I'm working with too little information. Maybe there's an Artaud out there, a real loose cannon who will break away and be brilliant--and who won't be invited to the parties.

related note---Trying to work out why I'm so bored with found texts. Looking back at my own poetry, it's full of the stuff--and I used to really love that feeling I'd get from finding the perfect goofy/scary/poignant line buried somewhere--"I get my best lines from stupid people" -Burroughs. Nowadays I couldn't care less. Perhaps it's the fish in a barrel quality that comes from all the googling (jesus, I do it too--who can resist?). No shock of the new there--on to something else?

what I'm reading: We Did Porn by Zak Smith, Artaud Anthology (ed. Hirschman),
Slanted and Enchanted by Kaya Oakes

Thursday, June 25, 2009


-- Farrah Fawcett, the blonde-maned actress whose best-selling poster and "Charlie's Angels" stardom made her one of the most famous faces in the world, died Thursday. She was 62.

Monday, June 22, 2009

a little poem for the end of the world

the fall
came sans


Friday, June 5, 2009

I really enjoy doing readings, especially if the book's new. There are always a few "oops" moments--why did I use that word?and now it's published so I can only change it here, at this reading. But the "oopses" are (at least with this book) few and far between. In the three years it took to find a publisher I was able to clean things up, and PM provided a good editor.

Five readings in five nights in NYC--mornings spent at a rather boring and under attended Book
Expo, the publisher's/bookseller's trade show. End of the industry and blah blah blah. Hope not, since bookselling still pays the rent, but I got sick of hearing it from the "suits", people from the big houses who publish mostly crap anyway. America isn't a reading country, never was, and now that readership is split between screen and book...of course business is down. I think the Indies will be the last to die--bookstores and publishers--because they cater to people who really care about books, language, culture. In a country that is made up mostly of morons, it's a small audience--but enough to keep quality publishers/stores afloat. I hope.

Readings were great fun--except perhaps the Bowery Poetry Club, where I'd expected better attendance. Summer Brenner is a great writer with an especially good book, and she reads beautifully. I tried to counter her reading, which was serious noir, with a few jokes. My new novel is kind of a clown act anyway, my secret (now not so secret) homage to Terry Southern--a satire that (I hope) fights absurdity (of the American corporate structure) with absurdity.
I heard a few laughs when I read, so I guess the book's working.

New York is always exhausting, in that this-train-that-train-three-dates-a-night-can you be downtown by 2pm--kind of way. Saw Eileen Myles, Jonathan Lethem, Ramsey (lugging my book and Summer's around town. Thank you, Ramsey), Nikki Leger, Independence Hall (read one night in Philly), Dumbo (noisy, but such a view), a great bookstore called Bluestockings. A Chuck Close show in Chelsea, couple hours in MOMA...well, it was New York.

And next week is the homecoming, reading at Moe's where I spend at least 32 hours a week, then at City Lights, inspiration for poets/writers/troublemakers/beatniks.

Also confirmed a date to read with Eileen Myles at Books & Bookshelves August 18th--a chance to read some poetry--and a little from the novel.

what I'm reading: Call It Thought by Stephen Rodefer, Hylozoic by Rudy Rucker, What You Have Left by James Sallis. Rereading Banshee by Margaret Millar.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Phil Ochs

Nobody likes William F. Buckley--evil man.

But I wasn't sleepy and I was watching Charlie Rose, and he was replaying Buckley clips because the son was on. There was a late clip of Buckley, looking like a grotesque of himself, like his Buckley mask had melted. He was saying that he'd done everything and that his life was over, but that he couldn't commit suicide, that being a sin. I felt the normal amount of sympathy that you might feel for someone who was a walking bag of shit--thought, he must have suffered from depression. Didn't quite say "poor man" but almost got there---feeling sorry for him, a little. Snapped out of it--oh, yeah, oh, yeah--there are good depressives and there are...walking bags of shit who are depressed.

Immediately thought of Phil Ochs, at first thinking well that's a strange skip, but then, no,

not so much--the sixties, the war...depression, and in Ochs case suicide.

And so I downloaded Rehearsals for Retirement because I don't have it on CD and Amoeba was closed. The opening lines make up the saddest couplet ever, well maybe not ever, but it's like something out of Wyatt, so universal, a perfect articulation of end-of-the-line despair:

The days grow longer for smaller prizes

I feel a stranger to all surprises

A brick wall of a couplet, high art, I think. Disturbing art is somehow (more) uplifting...that someone in such great pain could come out with those lines. Could only come out of intense pain--a kind of last gasp.

I'd read some bios but years ago, so I did a little late-night google research, refreshed my memory--that album cover with his tombstone, died in Chicago '68 (real date of death is, I think, '76)--that he was so torn up by, whatever you want to call it, the failure of the revolution, the death of the American dream (was there one?). His despair, depression, whatever was at least partly rooted in his concern for humanity.

Perhaps despair was (is?) an appropriate response to the times. And is it an essential ingredient in art?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Advertisements for Myself

I’ll be doing lots of readings this summer and fall. Here’s a partial list(some dates aren’t set yet).

Really looking forward to spending some time in NYC. I was there in '05 but just passing through, on my way to Yaddo. Last read there in '02 at Zinc Bar when my first novel, The Chandler Apartments, was published.

PM Press is an aggressive little publisher--they've put together a full reading schedule. A pleasant surprise--I can't complain that they aren't pushing the novel. If it doesn't sell I'll have to find something else to whine about. World-wide depression? But that shouldn't hurt the sales of such a low-priced ($13,95!) little novel.

I’ll be reading with Summer Brenner, author of the novel I-5, also, coincidentally, from PM Press. Check the various venues for times (Bowery Poetry Club reading is at 2pm):

Thursday May 28th Brecht Forum451 West Street NYC(212) 242-4201

Friday May 29 Wooden Shoe 508 S. 5th St. Philadelphia(215) 413-0999

Saturday May 30 Bowery Poetry Club308 Bowery NYC(212) 614-0505

Sunday May 31st Bluestockings172 Allen St. NYC(212) 777-6028

Monday June 1st Melville House 145 Plymouth St.Dumbo, Brooklyn(718) 722-9204

Monday June 15th Moe’s Books2476 Telegraph Avenue Berkeley (510) 849-2087

Thursday July 23rd Pegasus Books2349 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley (510) 649-1320

Tuesday September 29th City Lights Books 261 Columbus Avenue S.F. (415) 362-8193

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The New Rock 'n' Roll

See all that Jonathan Franzen, Salman Rushdie stuff on your shelf, all those wanna-be Booker Prize contenders gathering dust, all that earnest shit:
BIN IT.Get real, buddy.You wanna know how the world works, get Andrew Vachss.Not intellectual enough?Get James Sallis, he'll fry your cells. Or for downright metaphysical, Paul Auster.Crime writing, bro, it's the new rock 'n' roll.--Ken Bruen, Calibre (2006)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Baffling combustions are everywhere!

At a house reading, listening to Stephen Rodefer read, I felt the back of the neck hairs
stand up straight, had to hold the bridge of my nose to keep the tears from coming. Absolutely stunning reading by a great poet—still, I was surprised by my reaction. I curate a series, hear lots of great readings, but am almost never moved to tears. The poetry wasn’t “sad”, although there were elements of sadness. Just, um, perfect.

My favorite short poem is by Ungaretti—various translations, the one I remember:


Illumines me

My next tattoo. Clay Blackburn, the protagonist of my novels, has it tattoo’d on his arm.

Occasionally some work of art brings on the “enormity” effect. Ilumines me. And then I have to excuse myself and leave the gallery/reading/concert. Experience a kind of exquisite devastation. I’m always baffled/embarrassed when it happens—I’m not the type to make scenes. But I’m grateful for it—release, epiphany, deep connection—whatever the hell it is.

Friday, April 24, 2009

allow me to introduce myself

I'm not a huge Robert Lowell fan, but that phrase, "a flaw in the motor" (a fragment of the whole quote, can't remember the rest) pops into my head pretty often. Doesn't just apply to his generation of poets--there's a nice, "we're all bozos on this bus" feel to it.

My publisher suggested a blog. My publisher is PM Press, a very cool press indeed. Morph'd out of AK Press. Politics, Vegan cooking, the BEST noir around, and these great hoodies (I've scored two already--who says writing doesn't pay!). My book is called "The Incredible Double".
Info at

I started a blog years ago--didn't get very far. It was to be about book buying--I'm a buyer for a Berkely bookstore. Bad idea--the last thing I wanted to do after buying books all day.

This will be more open ended--I've got a bunch of new poems to post, and I'll be doing one of those Indy Press, cheap sleep, Jet Blue tours when the book comes out next month. So--poetry, travel journal, cranky opinions, book reviews...

Allow me to introduce myself:

I've knocked around the Bay Area poetry "scene" for 25 or so years. Did a mag called Blind Date in the eighties/early nineties. Published a bunch of chapbooks with such stellar presses as Words & Pictures, Gas Editions, Blue Press, Angry Dog Press. Read at all the places where poets read. Curate a reading series at Moe's Books, Berkeley. You could call it a career (if you could call it a career). In '02 I published a noir called The Chandler Apartments. It was doing ok when the publisher went belly-up. I believe he is currently on the lamb--or maybe they've caught up with him. I'm hoping PM Press will reprint it--I think it's pretty good.

Allow me to introduce myself:

I live in The Chandler Apartments, corner of Telegraph and Dwight, great old building in a charmingly (I think) down-at-the-heels neighborhood. Two cats--Hilda Doolittle and Zelda Fitzgerald. Work for Moe's Books...enough personal info for now.

So now I can go into "I am a Camera" or "I am a poet" or "I am a mystery writer" mode.

Onward! at least until the motor gives out.